Have you ever heard of “intentional meandering” for travelers? Of course you haven’t – I just made it up.
Well, kind of.
Early on in my travel days, I was an obsessive researcher. I would scour the inter-webs, looking for the best things to do, see, eat, and drink. I’m talking endless research, so much so that my house looked like a conspiracy theorist’s wall.
Of course, once I got to my destination, I could never fit everything I wanted to do in. Sometimes there wasn’t enough time in the day to do everything. Other times I’d get distracted by something I found along the way. Or I would meet people, changing my plans entirely.
I started to embrace the randomness of travel – arguably the best reason to travel in the first place. This leads me to “intentional meandering” (patent pending, of course).
Rather than searching for things to do, places to see, and then crafting the perfect itinerary, I simply plot all places that catch my eye on a map. Then, I start looking into the broader areas or neighborhoods those places are in. More likely than not, some clusters will begin appearing. Then you can just wander in a vague, general direction of all those clusters.
Taking this approach helped me stop planning a strict itinerary and let me focus on existing and exploring, or meandering, if you will. I’ve found that just walking with as little agenda as possible is a phenomenal way to experience where you are.
You’re immediately more open to randomness.
This is also particularly helpful for group travel when you don’t want to entirely dominate the group (obviously, your ideas are better, right?). Instead, when the group inevitably becomes indecisive and unsure what to do, you can casually suggest a nearby taco joint or music venue. Always a crowd-pleaser.
Of course, there are still some activities that I’ll prioritize. But for the most part, nowadays, I just meander my way through wherever I travel.
How to get started
Maps. Always use maps. You probably already are, but just in case…maps.
Cross-reference lists, guidebooks, bloggers, Instagram, Google Maps, and anywhere that you consume travel content.
You can even use some of my city guides! They’re a great place to start, and I assure you that you won’t go wrong with any of the places listed on my maps.
Try to keep in mind different scenarios you might be interested in throughout your day. Some of my favorites are:
- Coffee Shops
- Street art
Then start plotting them on a map. Google Maps is the obvious choice, but Apple Maps or even Wanderlog are good options.
You’ll notice some patterns start developing where many of your interests are located. Next, just pick a spot to start off and then begin meandering. Here’s an example of the map from my Paris City Guide:
Another tip is to try and disconnect as much as you can. I love listening to music, but headphones distract from the noise and ambiance of a city. I also love texting, keeping up with friends, but that’ll also disrupt your meander. Try to only consult the phone if you are looking for something specific on your map.
And here’s my last and probably most important piece of advice – so congrats on listening to me rant for this long. Let go of any preconceptions about the places you visit or the things you see. Get lost. Get confused. Be open. Find randomness. This is the only way you’ll be able to experience somewhere and make it only your experience. Forget “traveling like a local” and “exploring off the beaten path,” or even “intentional meandering.” Fuck all that – it’s all some marketing bullshit. But what you can do is create an experience that’s genuinely yours and only yours.
Oh, and you know, be safe? Be aware of the different neighborhoods, and if you don’t feel safe, don’t keep going.
That’s it! Now you’re an intentional meandering pro and can give it a shot on your next trip.
Have you tried something like this? Let me know in the comments below!